Ongoing efforts for a landmine-free Artsakh
SANTA ANA—The Orange County Armenian American community is hosting a public town hall meeting to discuss the continuous efforts to clear remaining minefields in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh) on Monday, April 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Barsamian Armenian Center in Ghazarian Hall located at 5305 W. McFadden Avenue, Santa Ana.
The event is sponsored by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Orange County Chapter, and Knights and Daughters of Vartan of Orange County, and will feature Amy Currin, The Halo Trust USA Head of Development. Free admission and the public is invited.
The Halo Trust is the world’s largest humanitarian mine clearance organization. It demines war torn lands threatening communities, and disposes of weapons of war, such as cluster bombs, stockpile of small arms and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
The organization’s role in Artsakh is to make the region mine free by 2020. The campaign, #MineFreeNK and #SafeSteps brings awareness to the goal of clearing all remaining minefields to push forward economic growth and development. The people of Artsakh are dependent upon the land where landmines still exist and unfortunately still face the threat of accidental explosions. The creation of a mine free Artsakh will stop these accidents and unnecessary loss of life, return families to their homes and encourage farmers to cultivate their land.
Mine clearance in Artsakh has not only greatly decreased the casualty rate but it has also allowed roads, schools and housing to be built, water pipes to be laid, fields to be cultivated, livestock to be safely grazed and people to go about their daily business without fear. The benefits of the clearance are tangible and the cleared land can be safely used in perpetuity.
In 2017, Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Congressman David G. Valadao visited The HALO Trust operations in Artsakh to view the humanitarian demining program that he helped fund as a member of the US House Appropriations Committee.
The territory was littered with landmines during conflicts at the end of the Soviet era and in the early 1990s. For many years, the people of Artsakh had one of the most lethal landmine problems per head of population, anywhere in the world, with 370 civilian casualties from landmines recorded after the conflict ended.
On September 7, the United States House of Representatives voted to include in the 2018 appropriations bill, Congressman Valadao’s amendment to ensure funding for ongoing demining projects in Artsakh. The bill was encouraged, endorsed and supported by the ANCA and the amendment ensures funds for HALO’s ongoing demining projects in Artsakh.
The HALO Trust, which employs 210 locally-recruited deminers, has been the only humanitarian organization present in the territory clearing landmines since 2000. It has now cleared 90 per cent of all minefields in the territory. HALO also recruits and trains local men and women to clear the minefields that affect their communities, and also has a an education component where they teach children and the community at large about the dangers and risks in the region.
For Artsakh to be completely mine free by 2020, $4 million is required to meet the goal.
HALO has been fortunate to have the support of the Julia Burke Foundation, the SJS Charitable Trust, private US-based foundations, and the Armenian diaspora through Landmine Free Artsakh, but otherwise it has limited private funds to clear minefields lying outside the Soviet designated boundary of Artsakh.
ANCA OC is the Orange County chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America, Western Region, and part of the most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of activists and supporters, and activists throughout Orange County and affiliated organizations and institutions in the region, it advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of local and national issues.